Connecting with people means getting to know at least a little about them: their name, their current family and work situation, their likes and dislikes, their needs and aspirations. By connecting, people reveal eye-opening truths about their life experience--and their world.
Project Homeless Connect - Bakersfield, held Saturday, April 21, in and around the Bakersfield Rescue Mission, was truly a time for connecting.
This first-ever one-day event, organized for our community by the Kern County Homeless Collaborative, was the catalyst needed to connect some 500 homeless men, women and children to life-changing housing and supportive services.
But the project went beyond connecting people to services: It connected people to people. The staff members of close to 40 service providers connected on a first-name basis with homeless they might otherwise never have met. Partnering agencies connected with one another while triaging to find solutions to clients’ homeless crises. Volunteers connected with homeless guests and fellow volunteers in their desire to do something that serves the greater good.
The ones who were asked to make themselves the most vulnerable in connecting were, of course, the homeless. In the spirit of providing the best possible assistance to them, they were asked about such personal details as their age, health and insurance benefit status, alcohol and drug use, and the reason for their homelessness. Service providers were also asked to share information about the number of people they helped: housing leads and placements, linkage to benefits, job training enrollments.
All the surveys have not yet been reviewed. All the numbers have not yet been tabulated. But maybe the following brief looks into the lives of some attendees at Project Homeless Connect - Bakersfield (both homeless and non-homeless), and their greatest immediate needs and aspirations, will help to enlighten the community about some of the challenges our local homeless population faces. May they serve to inspire even more solutions to deal with the issue of homelessness in Kern County.
A barbecued meal, sturdy shoes that fit, a pair of socks
Ron, 61, is a current resident of the Bakersfield Rescue Mission. He has been homeless for about 18 months.
When asked about what he was hoping to get out of Project Homeless Connect, his eyes popped open with excitement. “The food!” he answered, referring to the Famous Dave’s barbecue and fixings that would be served for lunch. “When you’re homeless, the hardest thing to get is special food like that,” Ron said, adding that he’d only eaten one or two barbecued hamburgers in the last year and a half.
Ron was also excited about the gently used shoes that were available. “Good quality shoes,” he called these generous donations from the community. He said it’s not hard to get used clothing in his size, but “shoes that fit and are in good shape, especially summer shoes,” are a rarer find. He settled for a pair of sandals with Velcro straps.
Another pleasant surprise came when a volunteer asked him if he wanted a pair of socks, too. “Socks?! You got socks?!”
Ron said he takes advantage of the learning resources provided at the Rescue Mission, a Homeless Collaborative member. “I’m constantly studying, learning and looking for work,” he said. He likes to read about machine design and mining. But he is realistic: “At my age, work is hard to get.”
What keeps him going? “I have a lot of faith,” he said.
A bus ticket to Kansas
Eduardo struggles with English. A native of Mexico, the 31 year-old is an undocumented resident in the U.S.
Eduardo’s biggest need at the moment? “I want to go to Kansas. I am asking for help because I want to leave this week,” he said in Spanish. He has a support network of friends and family there, he said. Here in Bakersfield, where he’s been living for the last seven months, Eduardo only had the support of his girlfriend. But they broke up. She threw him out, he said, and he became homeless.
About a month ago, Eduardo got a bed at the Rescue Mission. Then he found work and moved out of the Mission. But the job didn’t pan out and he ended up homeless again--two times in the same month.
He attends a couple of Hispanic Churches and is hoping his friends there can take up a collection to help him buy his much-desired bus ticket to Kansas City.
In the meantime, he will try to tap into any resources he can, considering his immigration status. At Project Homeless Connect, he received a vision consultation and some drops for his good right eye at the Advanced Center for Eyecare booth. When Eduardo was a child, his left eye was permanently damaged by a corneal ulcer, which can develop from Vitamin A deficiency in the diets of children in developing countries.
A chance to give others some opportunities she didn't have whe she was homeless
Denise Brock, the Street Outreach Team Lead and Supportive Services Coordinator for FLOOD Bakersfield Ministries, knows what it’s like to be homeless--a tremendous asset to have when helping others who find themselves in circumstances similar to those she experienced at one time.
Denise beamed with pride when talking about the portable shower station that had been set up by her agency in a quiet, discrete location at Project Homeless Connect. “When you’re homeless you don’t get to take a warm shower,” she said.
Later, when she was given an opportunity to speak to attendees at the official event ceremony, Denise said candidly, “When I was homeless, it took me months to get all the services people here are getting in one day. You don't know what this means. This is wonderful.”